DENVER - Marijuana for recreational use became legal in Colorado Monday, when the governor took a purposely low-key procedural step of declaring the voter-approved change part of the state constitution.
Colorado became the second state after Washington to allow pot use without a doctor's recommendation. Both states prohibit public use of the drug, and commercial sales in Colorado and Washington won't be permitted until after regulations are written next year.
Gov. John Hickenlooper, a Democrat, opposed the measure but had no veto power over the voter-approved amendment to the state constitution.
Hickenlooper tweeted his declaration Monday and sent an executive order to reporters by email after the fact. He told reporters he didn't want to make a big deal about the proclamation, a decision that prevented a countdown to legalization as seen in Washington, where the law's supporters gathered to smoke in public to celebrate.
Fewer than two dozen people publicly marked Colorado's legalization day. A small group puffed away at 4:20 p.m. on the steps of the state Capitol, with no arrests and no police officers in sight.
"It smells like freedom," said a smiling, puffing Timothy Tipton, a longtime marijuana activist.
Colorado law gave Hickenlooper until Jan. 5 to declare marijuana legal. He told reporters Monday he saw no reason to wait and didn't see any point in letting marijuana become legal without his proclamation.
"If the voters go out and pass something and they put it in the state constitution, by a significant margin, far be it from myself or any governor to overrule. I mean, this is why it's a democracy, right?" Hickenlooper said.
Adults over 21 in Colorado may now possess up to an ounce of marijuana, or six plants. Public use and sale of the drug remain illegal.